Democratic Nation

“As a matter of fact, freedom and equality attained via the nation-states is only for monopolies, as proven around the world. Power and capital monopolies never allow true freedom or equality. Freedom and equality can only be acquired through the democratic politics of democratic society, and protected with self-defence.” A. Öcalan


In this series the definition of Democratic Nation in Apoism[1] will be discussed. A term which might be irritating if one knows the antinationalist and antistatist paradigms of the PKK. To understand the usage of the term we´ve got to discuss the distinction from the term nation state. This series aims at investigating the deep rooted structural and political difference between nation state and democratic nation, concluding with the problems of coexistence.

The Kurdish liberation movement has, as is widely known –  an antistatist – and especially antinationalist  – outset. In some articles, two the two cornerpoints of the society model suggested by revolutionary Apoism: Democratic Confederalism and Democratic Autonomy have been discussed. There has been an obvious lack of discussion about the democratic nation which is the alternative model of the Kurdish movement to nation statism. Probably there has been a lack of discussion on that topic because in European societies the term nation is connected to state and nationalism. Therefore, in this series we will start with the development of nationalism in Europe coming to its impact on the Middle East, linking it to the development of the antinationalist paradigm of Apoism. As a political and social ideology of capitalism and nation states chapter two will discuss the development of liberalism and its social impact.

In the interpretation of history used in Apoism the antagonism of democratic civilization and state civilization manifests itself in various ways and reproduces itself on new levels. This form of dialectic reflects itself in the conflict between democratic civilization and state civilization – a contradiction which starts with the first colonized and oppressed nation – the women in the late Neolithic era. This struggle will be reflected in the discussion of patriarchy and nation in chapter three.  In the following chapters the dimension and interpretations of democratic nation will be discussed, concluding with the discussion of coexistence or mutual extermination of the models. The text is not meant as a final product but as a construction site for developing an understanding of the impact of state civilization, nationalism and capitalism on society and the quest for alternatives.

Chapter 1: Nation State and Nationalism

As the ideological construction of the nation is a creation of the 18th century Europe – this term is now confronted with a total redefinition from the Middle East, from Kurdistan – from Abdullah Öcalan. He states that the European models of nation have created centuries of war and genocide and that nation statism is the modern expression of capitalist modernity. Apoism sees a connection between nation-statism and the failure of Marxism-Leninism in the so called state socialist models and rejects former concepts of national liberation movements. He states: “The inadequate analysis of the question of state by socialist ideology only obscured the problem further. However, in “the right of nations to self-determination”[2], the vision of a state for every nation was fundamental in aggravating the issue even more.” While the democratic nation “differs from real socialism and the classic Marxist-Leninist doctrine behind it. It takes the right of nations to self-determination from its enclosure as a bourgeois right, and includes it within the scope of societal democracy. In other words, the Kurdish question could be solved without being contaminated by statism, without gravitating towards a nation-statist pursuit and, without being forced into solutions under these categories, it could be resolved within democratic governance models of society. This is the essence of the transformation of the PKK.”[3] Öcalan sharply criticises the conflation of nation with the state and the parallel intertwining of ethnos and demos. The problems of nation-statism, pointed out by Apoism are of a structural nature and can be observed in the international debate on the nation state, too. Ephraim Nimni from the Centre for the Study of Ethnic Conflict sees as a consequence of nation statism  that “culture becomes a quasi-totalitiarian marker for unity“[4]  According to the anthropoligist Gellner, the ultimate logic of nationalism is assimilation, expulsion and murder (‘ethnic cleansing’), processes we have been witnessing in the twentieth century and the basic pattern of the nation-state, requiring, as it does, a sufficient congruence between state and culture for a viable polity.[5]  European history reflects this quite clearly.

The nation-statist perspective underlines four cornerpoints – Belief Systems/Religion, Culture, market and language. The development of modern national states is closely connected to the development of modern capitalist and its markets. The national states of Western Europe began slowly replacing imperial concepts beginning in the 16th century and culminating in the French Revolution, when Kings and feudal lords were conquered by the bourgeoisie. Becoming a nation meant battling for markets. Therefore, nation-states developed in the context of market defence and conquest. Feudal tax frontiers were to be lifted to end taxation for the capital of the owning bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie conquered the kings and feudal lords in the revolution of 1789. Here we can see the shift between the feudal concept of `my people´ to the concept of `the people´and the struggle as to who `the people´ would be. It is quite clear that it is not the oppressed, the women, the exploited who drove the French revolution and were the winners but the bourgeoisie with its ideology of national – liberalism, closely connected to the development of modern capitalism. The nations started defining themselves as sectors of production and consumption. In the beginning it was about protecting the ownership of capital. Short after consolidation began the aggressive expansion. The nation defined as `the people´ remained an ideology binding the ruled to their rulers, the exploited to their exploiters. As Jeffrey Miley states in an interview: “became utilised by people in power to justify and to get popular support for imperial projects in many of the imperial countries. So you see Britain appealing to a concept of Britishness, to get working class people to identify with imperial projects. This is also the case for instance in Russia, where an official state nationalism was propagated. This is a historical problematic that culminated in interwar Europe with the rise of fascism and with state actors using this appeal to the nation to mobilize masses of people.”[6]

The bourgeoisie developed its own literature, theatre, music and art. As so often in history, culture developed as a negation of the old. There had been criticism of capitalism but the belief in progress dominated. All the critics were criticizing only a part of the system. The philosophers and intellectuals, too – Hegel, Marx and Engels didn´t criticize the system as a whole but focused their criticism on production. Nation state is a cultural practice which forces itself upon all parts of society. Öcalan compares the development to the nation state becoming an ideology and a kind of substitute for religion. The sacral nation state takes the place of the king by the grace of god. And the terms used in the context of state and economy are proof of this status.

The PKK comes to similar conclusions, too, due to the history of subjugation of the Middle East under modern nationalism. The destructive consequences of European nation-statism reflect itself in the History of the region. While in the Ottoman Empire, with its Islamic religious ideology of legitimization, differed in that way from the European model and reigned in a feudal way through more or less autonomous regional elites. The European model had its impact on the region already in the 19th century through the Tanzimat reform period between 1839-1876, which tried to establish a French inspired form of centralism and led to uprisings and massacres especially in the Kurdish emirates whose autonomous privileges had been abolished.[7] In the beginning of the 20th century the movement of the Committees or Union and Progress C.U.P with its appeal to positivism adapted racist ideologies like Turanism. The so called Turanism, as an ideology of positivism, developed alongside the “scientific” racism transforming linguistic categories like “Aryan” or Alto-Uigurian languages into an “Uralo-Altaic race” by Finnish nationalists and with their close connections to the German Reich and collaboration up to the genocide of 1.5 Million Armenians in 1914-16.[8] This shows how close the development of Turkish nationalism is connected ethnic nationalism developing in Europe in the 19th century, especially the theories of race.[9] Notably, the German imperial project Baghdad Railway had been built by deported Armenians forced to work at the project under often mortal conditions. Asa result, many Ottoman death camps were in the region of today´s Rojava.[10]  The Baghdad railway formed at least partially the border of the national states to come. We can see here that the genocide against the Armenians is not an outcome of Ottoman policy but of the development of nationalism.[11] While many nations were defined by markets the Kurds weren´t part of this development, they didn´t have private property in the means of production, therefore a colonial system was employed. While the development of nation states in Europe evolved, the east was left behind. The peoples of the East hadn´t had the construct of a bourgeoisie and therefore weren´t able to develop nations. Developing nations came late in the East but the Kurds were never part of it. In the following decades we see a policy of annihilation and assimilation against the Kurdish population on both sides of the Sykes – Picot border – Panarabism in the Kurdish areas within the borders of Syria and Iraq as antithesis to French colonialism, and Turanism – Turkism within the borders of Turkey as an ideology of national homogenization and superiority. The nationalism of Turkey was especially aggressive due to the weakness of the national fabric of the region. After the First World War and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East was divided into parts that suited the interests of the colonial powers: Britain and France. The new, unstable states “were cobbled together from various ethnic, religious, and denominational groups,” observes the Turkish political scientist Haluk Gerger, and internecine warfare would ensure that they remained dependent on the powers. “ The mentioned massacres and  genocides were only a few examples but the monism of the nation state is still reflected in today’s Turkey as it is in the integration of migrants and Leitkultur discourse in European countries, especially in Germany. This form of unitarism can manifest itself in a religious or sectarian manner, too. Looking at the British colonialism and imperialism in Ireland, the categories of being protestant or being catholic have been used in a similar manner; defining identities of oppressors and oppressed. In a similar way, Turkey is using Sunnism for pushing forward its imperial projects. Nation statist thinking has always had the high probability of creating a nationalist, monistic and authoritarian collective mentality. Öcalan criticizes this understanding sharply: “The understanding that binds the nation to a common language, culture, market or history is descriptive of state-nations and cannot be generalized, that is, it cannot be reduced to a single understanding of the nation. This understanding of nation, which was also acknowledged by real socialism, is the opposite of democratic nation. This definition, as developed by Stalin for Soviet Russia, is one of the main reasons for the dissolution of the Soviet Union. If this definition of nation, absolutized by capitalist modernity, is not abandoned, then the solution to all national problems will continue to confront an impasse. The fact that national problems have persisted for the past three centuries is closely linked to this inadequate and absolute definition.”[12]

[1][1] As used in the Turkish and Kurdish language discussion on the ideology developed by the imprisoned chairman of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, we use the widely known Kurdish short form of his name “Apo” and connect it with the suffix marking an ideology –ism – in a similar form as the terms Marxism or Trotskyism are used – as Apoism is a political theory developed by a unique thinker and practitioner.

[2] Öcalan, Abdullah, 2016, p. 19

[3] Öcalan, Abdullah, 2016, p. 19-20

[4] Nimni2013: 5

[5] Gellner 1997: 239–240


[7] McDowall, David, 2004, p. 47ff.

[8] Cf. Gottschlich, J., 2015.

[9] Hanioglu, M.S., 1995,  p.209 f.

[10] Cf. Gottschlich, J., 2015, p. 236ff.

[11] Cf. Gellner, 1997, p. 84.

[12] Öcalan, Abdullah, 2016, p. 19-20